Listen to your body
“One thing that affected my form at Real Madrid was not playing all the time because of injury. When I came to Inter, I changed my training and recovery; if I didn’t feel great, I would tell the coaches and we would do some light training or stretching instead. Under Jose Mourinho we did this with the whole squad and if you check, you’ll see there weren’t many injuries for the whole season. A big reason was that players were given time to recover.”
Do your homework
“Before my first game for Inter [a man of the match performance in a 4-0 win over AC Milan] the team gave me a video to watch of my team-mates and the opposition. It didn’t take long to watch but gave me an idea of how I should play with my team-mates: where they make runs, where there might be space, when I should come deep. But I also saw where the opponents were weak and how I could exploit this. Even if one person goes to watch the opponent, they can provide a scouting report which can give you an edge.”
Relax between games
“I’m one of those players that once the match is over, I’m thinking about something else. You can’t play at your top level every week if you’re always thinking about football; you need to switch off. Some of my team-mates play tennis or go fishing; not me, though, I hate fishing. But I have just bought a new bicycle which I take around the park when the weather is good. It’s a nice way to relax between big games.”
Have a nice lie down
“It’s not something a lot of players will think about but sleep can affect how you play or train the next day. I like to get at least seven to eight hours every night – anything less and I might not be able to play at the same level. I think this is why it’s important not to always be thinking about football, because if you do, you might never sleep! I think too many late nights can catch up with you and with some players maybe even lead to injuries. So next time you have a match, maybe cancel your big night out the night before. It’s a sacrifice most top players make.”
“I always prepare for every game the same way. I don’t have any superstitions like putting one sock on first, but I like to get ready for a match in exactly the same way every time: arriving at the ground, listening to my music (Dutch hip-hop), putting my kit on and then going out for the warm-up. It’s nothing major but it helps me settle before the game and get in the right mindset – one that says, ‘OK, now it’s time to play.’”
Don’t get carried away
“When we won the treble, there was a period when every match was big. We were playing a big game in the league, then in the Champions League, then in the Italian Cup. But Jose Mourinho had one message for the players: don’t think about winning trebles or the league or the Champions League; just think about winning the next match. If you keep doing that, all those trophies will come. When you’re going for big titles, you can’t think about winning them because you might forget to do those little things in games that get you those big trophies. Play well and the title will come.”
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